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Film / Return of the Living Dead

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Return of the Living Dead is a series of zombie films, starting with a 1985 film. The original was a horror-comedy, but later films have varied tonally.

The films are, in order:

This movie series contains the following:

  • And I Must Scream: The zombies are shown to be fully aware of their condition, and eat brains specifically because it gives off endorphins that soothe the pain of decomposition and rigor mortis. They can't even die, meaning they have no choice but to either suffer excruciating pain or be forced to murder innocent people.
  • Ashes to Crashes: It's a bad idea to Burn the Undead, as more zombies come to life that way.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Trash says her fantasy of being killed is by being surrounded by old men eating her alive.
  • Berserk Board Barricade: The heroes do this in various locations. For the most part it works just fine, with only one failure shown to occur.
  • Black Comedy: The first and second films, in particular.
  • Brain Food: Ur-Example in regards to zombies. Here, the zombies eat brains because they give off endorphins that kill the pain of decomposition and rigor mortis.
  • Body Horror: The zombies in general are largely mutilated and heavily decayed, especially the page picture, Tarman, who is seen transforming from a relatively intact looking corpse into, well... Tarman.
  • Darker and Edgier: The third film drops the comedy completely in favor of a more serious plot revolving around a teen trying to revive his recently deceased girlfriend using the trioxin. The fourth and fifth films are also pretty dark and serious in their own way but to a lesser extent.
  • The Dead Have Eyes: Even the most decayed zombies have functioning eyeballs.
  • Dem Bones: A couple zombies, including Tarman. One shot of what is blatantly a skeleton with eyes rising is used the first and last times a contaminated cemetery gives up its dead in the first film.
  • Denser and Wackier: The second film leans far more towards comedy than the first film, which was more of an equal blend of horror and comedy.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: Present and accounted for, a lot.
  • Fiction as Cover-Up: The original Night of the Living Dead was meant as a cover-up of a zombie outbreak.
  • Government Conspiracy: Trioxin, the zombie-creating chemical, was originally developed by the U.S. government, and is only released once again through their carelessness by subcontracting its storage to people who don't know how to handle it. In the third movie, the military is still conducting Trioxin experiments on fresh corpses.
  • It Can Think: The Return zombies show clear signs of intelligence, like puzzle-solving, note  speech, note  setting up ambushes, note  the ability to deceive others, note  and awareness of their condition. note  All of which are traits not found in their shambling, mindless cousins from other zombie franchises.
    "Send. More. Paramedics."
  • Made of Plasticine:
    • The zombies (the Tarman especially). Justified, since they're... well, dead.
    • In a slightly less justifiable manner, the zombies are able to bite into their victims' skulls as if they were biting into apples.
  • Mood Whiplash: Though the first and second movies are horror-comedies, the third movie completely drops the humor in favor of being squicky and sad. The fourth and fifth movies return to the horror-comedy routes, while adding in some mild seriousness and sci-fi elements. Also, the basement scene with Tarman in the original is arguably the scariest scene in the entire film as there is absolutely no comedy present. There's an intentional unsettling atmosphere building up to his reveal, and as he stalks his intended prey (Freddy's girlfriend, Tina), we hear an eerie techno score.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The Trioxin zombies are a cross between Artificial Zombies and Flesh-Eating Zombies as they are brain-eating corpses animated by 2-4-5 Trioxin, an herbicide. They also retain a huge amount of their human intelligence, to the point that they can rationalize their brain-eating to intended victims.
    • As seen in the workprint of the first film, zombie bites can be non-fatal depending on where they're inflicted; a peck on the nose doesn't seem to affect Burt, though he still freaks out over it.
      Burt Wilson: He bit me, that son of a bitch!
    • It really wasn't until the third film that zombie bites had an effect on their victims. Trash reanimates in the first film, but that's only because her corpse was left sitting out in the Trioxin polluted rain.
    • Starting with the fourth film, a new chemical called Tryoxin 5 is used to create the zombies instead. Unlike their 2-4-5 counterparts, the Tryoxin 5 zombies could be killed the old-fashioned way.
  • Revenge of the Sequel: Return was this to Night of the Living Dead. John Russo, co-creator of the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), owned the rights to the "living dead" which is why Romero's films only have "dead" in their titles.
  • Running Gag: "Send more..." This was only featured in the first two films, however.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The canisters of Trioxin that also contain corpses.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: The series features a rather perfect blend of both comedy and horror.
  • Thematic Series: The series is loosely connected as well as being a loose Spin-Off of Night Of The Living Dead.
  • Tragic Villain: Zombies are already roundly this by default, being mutated into ravenous shambling monsters against their will, but Return reveals the extent of their suffering: they're not mindless, they're in agony, and that's what drives their Horror Hunger:
    Zombie: The pain...the pain of being dead![...]I can feel myself rot![...](eating brains) makes the pain...go away...
  • When It Rains, It Pours: Whenever trioxin gas or zombie ash gets into the atmosphere, it immediately starts pouring down raining. It's a rule.
  • The X of Y: The Return of the Living Dead.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Zigzagged Trope. The first movie implies that the zombie hordes are unstoppable once released and will necessarily bring about the end of civilization, but in each of the sequels the situation appears to be under control until another canister of trioxin gets in the wrong hands.
  • Zombie Gait:
    • Zigzagged, the zombies in most of the movies can run as long as they are not too decayed. For example, Tarman has a very pronounced Zombie Gait because he is so decomposed he can barely support himself.
    • However, this is played straight in the fourth film.
  • Zombie Infectee: Several people keep their wits about them once infected. They even find ways to stave off the desire to eat flesh well into the transformation phase, so as to not be a danger to friends and loved ones. This, unfortunately, makes them rather attractive to the government.
  • Zombify the Living: Trioxin gas can simultaneously kill and reanimate someone, so fast that they initially don't realize it's happened to them until the discomfort of rigor mortis sets in.